Saturday, November 28, 2015

1950's big post-Thanksgiving snowstorm

No one saw it coming. There was no warning. No one was prepared. No one knew to stock up on bread, milk, and toilet paper.

The weather forecast for the day after Thanksgiving was for "snow squalls," windy, and colder.

Snow reportedly started falling in the Ambridge area on the morning after Thanksgiving. Friday's Daily Citizen headline was "Surprise Snowstorm Hits District, 3 in. fall, more tonight."

The "more" turned out to be right.

By the time of Friday's morning commute, road conditions were already bad, and travel was slow and difficult. Several minor accidents had been reported. And the snow was still falling.

Traffic snarl in snowstorm
State St., Baden
Daily Citizen
November 24, 1950

Original caption:
LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! And that just what it is doing today in Ambridge and the district. With a cold wave and winds propelling the whiteness from the west, the actual fall is yet to be determined. Starting at shortly before 6 a.m., the skies were overcast during the morning hours. Traffic was snarled and many people were late for work. The above scene was snapped on State St., Baden, showing extent of the traffic jam.
The Citizen reported that buses, as well as cars, were hampered by the slippery roads, and hundreds of workers were late to work that morning. Nothing was moving at all in more rural areas. The fact that the sudden snow wasn't predicted meant many cars didn't have snow tires or chains, and pedestrians weren't properly dressed for a heavy snowfall.

The snow kept falling.

Friday's Post-Gazette said in an article about the coldest weather of the season arriving in the area that day, "Snow accompanying the new cold wave is not expected to be heavy." That prediction about the snow turned out to be a tad off.

By the time workers left their shifts in the afternoon, they were stuck where they were. The buses had stopped running. Cabs weren't running. Even if drivers could dig out their cars, the roads were now impassable. Walking was difficult, if not impossible, with deep snow now covering sidewalks. And the snow was still coming down.

The Citizen's Friday forecast for Saturday was "more snow and cold."

And indeed, there was more snow.

The Citizen didn't publish on either Saturday or Sunday, but Saturday's Pittsburgh Press predicted a record-setting snowfall of 12 inches.

The Post-Gazette Saturday morning edition headlined "SNOWFALL NEARING 15 INCHES, Worst Storm in 6 Years Snarls Traffic for Hours. Street Car, Auto and Bus Travel Paralyzed Here." And more snow flurries were predicated.

The Post-Gazette reported the snow had fallen steadily for nearly 20 hours. That combined with high winds and temperatures that had fallen one degree every two hours, had created ice coated streets and "mountainous snowdrifts."

And how were conditions in Ambridge? The headline of the Daily Citizen on Monday, November 27, 1950, read "BURGESS DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY."

It looks like snow still may have been falling in the photo below. The photo was taken on Fourth St. near Merchant St. The building to the left would have been the Nicholas Grill, 401 Merchant. Later, the building became the Red Bull Inn, and is currently apartments. In the background, you can see the rear of what was then Holy Trinity Church at 415 Melrose Ave. [update November 29, 2015: The Holy Trinity building was brand new at the time and would be dedicated on December 17, 1950.]

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
Fourth and Merchant Sts.
November 1950
photo courtesy of Butch O'Keefe
used with permission

Snowfall in Ambridge was reportedly 26 inches, but drifts were significantly higher. Still, the Citizen reported that the digging out was going well and "well advanced in most communities." Ambridge's main and secondary streets (supposedly) were open, and side streets were expected to be "accessible" soon. State highway help had not shown up yet, and bulldozers from American Bridge Co. and Spang-Chalfant were among the vehicles being pressed into snow clearing service.

The photo below shows the conditions on the 600 block of Merchant St. Visible are Charles Men's Wear, 639 Merchant St., Isaly's, 643 Merchant, and Edel's Children's Shop, 647 Merchant.

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
600 block of Merchant St.
Daily Citizen
November 27, 1950

The Daily Citizen caption for the above photo read:

Many vehicles stuck in the deep snow and ruts on Merchant St. during the heavy snow storm. Cars were stranded in practically every street of the town. This truck was given an assist by others to get away from the curb.

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
600 block of Maplewood Ave.
Daily Citizen
November 27, 1950

Original Daily Citizen caption:
THIS SCENE SHOWS the effects of the storm in the 600 block Maplewood Avenue.

Industry kept going. All Ambridge area plants and mills except for H. H. Robertson were operating, although many employees were still digging out.

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
American Bridge Company
Ohio River Blvd.
November 1950
photo courtesy of Butch O'Keefe
used with permission

The photo below shows another view of Merchant and Fourth Sts., looking east, up the hill towards Duss Ave.

[Updated November 29, 2015:
I believe, but am not sure, that at the time,

The three-story brick building at 398 Merchant St. was the Hess Hotel, later the Fox Hotel. (Confirmed by Butch O'Keefe). If you know for sure, please leave a comment.

Also, if you know the identity of the businesses in the building to the far right that says "upholster(ing?) on the window and "Furniture Service" on the sign above the window, the next building to the east that may say "Barber Shop" on the window, or was at the southwest corner of Fourth and Merchant, please let me know.

According to Butch, the building to the far right that says "upholster(ing?) on the window and "Furniture Service" on the sign above the window, was Walgoria Upholstery & Furniture Repair. Butch says the building at the southwest corner of Fourth and Merchant was Laman's Wallpaper and Paint. The business between Walgoria and Laman's that may say "Barber Shop" on the window, remains unidentified. If you can identify it, please let me know.]

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
Fourth and Merchant Sts. looking east towards Duss Ave.
November 1950
photo courtesy of Butch O'Keefe
used with permission

Most stores in Ambridge were closed, but food stores that managed to open were busy. The photo below showed the line in front of the Kroger's market on Saturday, November 25. At the time, Kroger's was at 625 Merchant St. Later, a Sun Drug Store occupied that building, currently the location of the River Valley Tang Soo Do Academy.

"Prospective customers waiting outside Kroger store"
625 Merchant St.
Saturday, November 25
Daily Citizen, November 27, 1950

In the photo of the 500 block of Merchant St. looking north, you can see Davidson's Department Store, 510 Merchant on the right, and the AmBee Shoppe's oval sign at 517 Merchant.

Thanksgiving weekend big snow
500 block of Merchant St.
November 1950
photo courtesy of Butch O'Keefe
used with permission

All borough employee leaves had been canceled, as had garbage and ash collection.

Public and parochial schools were closed too, but were expected to reopen on Wednesday, November 29. While school entrances were said to have been cleared, the roads weren't cleared for buses, and teachers were snowbound in their homes.
1950 Thanksgiving weekend big snow
Ambridge High School
Bridger yearbook, 1951

1950 Thanksgiving weekend big snow
area between back of Ambridge High School and Stadium
Bridger yearbook, 1951

A single lane had been cleared up Breitenstein Rd. as far as Ridge Rd. and then to Wilson Ave. Harmony Township police and employees of municipal departments tried to reach isolated homes to deliver medicine, bread, milk, and other needed supplies. "Their only pause in the 'missions of mercy' being for short meals," the Citizen reported.

Some buses were running on Monday. Woodlawn and Southern was "maintaining schedules." The Beaver Valley and Ohio River buses hoped to be operating by Tuesday.

Burgess Walter Panek asked those shoveling sidewalks and roofs not to throw snow into the streets and to make sidewalk paths wide enough for pedestrians to walk.

According to the U.S. National Weather Service, the November 24 - 26, 1950, snowstorm is still the largest snowfall on record in Pittsburgh, with an official depth of 27.4 inches.

Next: the cleanup after 1950's Thanksgiving weekend big snow.

1 comment:

  1. jd aka john domansky

    great job & great blog & great pics, just out of school a few months & lived this storm, look in another area where I commented sbout the snow storm, nothing moved for several days, I ice skated merchant st from 14th to 3rd or so & back again, snow was packed & hard it was very cold too. reminds me of the chicago blizzard of 1967, i live near I-80 & I-94, traffic did not moved for 4 or 5 days, trucks opened their doors & gave out free food, truckers & people stranded on hiway were taken into the homes along side of 80 94 for several days, I was the last car into republic steel south chicago works 3 to 11 shift & was stuck there for 2 days, car stayed there, no food, i walked 8 miles home in waist high snow & had to shovel house & driveway out, you could get to roof of garage on a snow drift to shovel snow from the roof. that snow was & is called lake effect snow, lake michigan just miles away. that was the time our daughter was conceived, ha.